Female Solidarity in Stage Door (1937)

Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers face off in Stage Door

Something remarkable happens within the first minutes of Stage Door (1937)Ginger Rogers rips the stockings off of Gail Patrick’s legs as a group of women gather and watch the spectacle unfold before them. The other women heckle as Rogers and Patrick exchange insult after insult. Who are these women and what has gotten into them?

They are, as we soon learn, aspiring Broadway actresses living in the Footlights Club, a New York City boarding house. These women are all fighting for their one shot at stardom. Most of them have been out of work for over year; it is the Depression after all and work is hard to come by. There is Kay (Andrea Leeds) who is clinging to the hope that her past success will land her the next big role. Linda (Patrick) believes her cushy relationship with a producer will get her somewhere fast. Then there is newcomer Terry Randall, played magnificently by Katharine Hepburn, whose pompous attitude quickly gets under the snarky Jean’s (Rogers) skin.

With Stage Door, Hepburn shows her tremendous range. In one scene her performance is absolutely horrendous and she is nearly unbearable to watch as she argues with a frustrated producer, playwright and director. Minutes later, Hepburn performs the same scene (“The calla lilies are in full bloom.”) and she morphs into something else. Her performance is profound and iconic. Ginger Rogers, whose screen persona is so heavily intertwined with Fred Astaire, even the most astute lover of classic cinema can forget her enormous talent. The sharp dialogue rolls off her tongue faster than she can tap dance. And Kay’s depression, thanks to some heightened lighting and camera angles, borders on extreme melodrama but it is given tremendous depth and poignancy in Andrea Leeds’ hands.

It is how Stage Door presents and embraces female solidarity on the screen that bolsters its lasting impression. From the outset, it is clear that Stage Door is just a women’s film. It is almost 20 minutes before a male is given a speaking role in the film and after that, only Adolphe Menjou exchanges heated words with a fiery Hepburn.

Female relationships in this film are not belittled to petty bickering (stockings aside) or melodramatic antics. The dialogue is smart and blisteringly funny. The insults tossed around by Rogers, Hepburn and company feels like banter among friends. It is through that feeling of connectivity that the women in Stage Door are given a leg up on any male in this fill. Their endlessly witty and intelligent conversations tower above anything Menjou gets to say.

The female relationships in Stage Door most often revolve around the women’s common passion for the theater and their desire for a career. Their lives are not solely centered on settling into marriage. Yes, Lucille Ball’s Judy winds up married and Menjou’s powerful producer Andrew Powell is very much a puppeteer. But at the film’s conclusion, it is not Judy’s marriage or Powell’s authoritative hand that matters. It is the relationship between these women that towers above. The Footlights Club is a family. That point is made time and time again.

The closing sequence, set approximately six months after Terry Randall first enters the Footlights Club, is a near-mirror image of the opening. Hattie is seen sweeping the floor before the camera pans up to reveal the other women sitting in the living room. They laugh, they celebrate one girl finally getting a bit part, and they move wildly about the room with the same rapid dialogue we have grown accustomed to. Judy struggles to leave the living room and to the taxi where her bridegroom waits. Symbolically Terry and Jean sing “Here Comes the Bride” as they carry her over the threshold and out the door. They are moving her from the safety and comfort of the boarding house, where there is boundless female solidarity, to the reality of marriage, family, and a male-dominated, patriarchal world.

In Stage Door, female solidarity reigns

Judith is leaving for that world yet there is comfort taken in when the next fresh-faced, starry-eyed aspiring actress arrives at the Footlights Club. She is ushered and welcomed in just as Terry was at the film’s start. The world of the boarding house will continue even if the women who live there cannot always escape what society demands for them.

What Should I Watch Tonight?

It is another night without cable for me. Fortunately, a solid selection of my DVDs have been transported to Boston so I finally have something to watch. But just what movie am I going to watch?

I’m having some issues deciding what movie I should watch tonight. I’ve narrowed it down to five and the best reason I can think of to watch it. Maybe you can help me out from here.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Why: Because once upon a time Abigail Breslin was adorable. (I also have not seen this, I think, since it was released.)

Stage Door (1937)

Why: It’s a great early Katharine Hepburn movie that also stars Lucille Ball and Ginger Rogers.

Annie Hall (1977)

Why: I watched Whatever Works this morning and I could go for a really good Woody Allen movie now.

To Have or Have Not (1944)

Why: Lauren Bacall. Bogie. This scene. Need I show you anything more?

Garden State (2004)

Why: In honor of my upcoming return to New Jersey, I should rewatch a movie that filmed in my hometown.

There you have it. Have any other suggestions that might tip the scale in one movie’s favor?

Rejoice! The African Queen (Finally) Comes To DVD

Save this date!

Beginning March 23, you can own The African Queen on DVD. The 1951 classic starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn has never been released on DVD until now.

So why the wait? Paramount took six years to restore the film using 4k digital technology. Jack Cardiff, the film’s cinematographer who passed away in April 2009, provided his commentary of the film for Paramount. Other special features include a new documentary, Embracing Chaos: Making The African Queen, about the making of The African Queen. Martin Scorsese is one of the film experts interviewed for the documentary.

Limited editions will also include: an audio disc with a recording of a radio version of The African Queen; a Senitype film frame collectible reproduction; collectible postcards; and a reproduction of Hepburn’s out-of-print memoir, The Making of The African Queen or How I Went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind.

Now this is something that should make every film geek go nuts.

My (Blogging) Lifetime with Kate

Today (or rather, tonight) I am contributing to the Katharine Hepburn Blog-a-thon over at Encore Entertainment. Better late than never!

I’ve already written extensively about several of Hepburn’s greatest performances, ranging from Bringing Up Baby to The African Queen. So rather than produce something boring (for me at least, maybe not for you) and already done, I’m instead focusing on the beginning of my relationship with/connection to/utter fascination with Katharine Hepburn.

Continue reading “My (Blogging) Lifetime with Kate”

Music Fix: ‘What Would Katharine Hepburn Say"

I’ve never heard of this band Sparks but I stumbled upon this awesome and obscure song when I was brushing up on my Katharine Hepburn facts (aka editing the Katharine Hepburn wikipedia page).

Ron Mael of Sparks wrote the song, “What Would Katharine Hepburn Say”. It was originally performed by Chritie Hayden. Here is the best video clip I could find of the song. Enjoy!

And here are the lyrics since the video quality ain’t so great.

If you really want to have my loving
All you’ve got to do is not be lazy
If you really wanna have my loving
All you’ve got to be is Spencer Tracy
All you’ve got to do is show me kindness
And a kind of sensible awareness

What would Katherine Hepburn did, were she in my play?
What would Katherine Hepburn do, were she in my shoes?
What would Katherine Hepburn say, here behind the wheel?

There are certain people I would cling to
People who are good with their decisions
There are certain people I would sing to
People with unpopular positions
eople who have never been to Paris
People who don’t ever look embarrassed

What would Katharine Hepburn say, were she in my play?
What would Katharine Hepburn do, were she in my shoes?
What would KH feel, here beind the wheel?
Of my shiny new car, would she feel,
That I’m going too far, would she feel?
Would she feel?
What does she appear to say? I can’t hear her (x3)

It’s not as if our love is like a mountain
It’s not as if our love is like a river
It’s not as if it’s deeper than the ocean
It’s the kind of love that gives me shivers
It’s the kind of love that don’t need moonlight
It’s the kind of love that don’t get uptight
I’m sorry

What would Katharine Hepburn say, were she in my play?
What would Katharine Hepburn do, were she in my shoes?
What would Katherine Hepburn feel, here beind the wheel?
What would Katharine Hepburn say, I can’t hear her (x3)

If you want to download the song, let me know. I can email you the link.